Some MMOs are extremely huge and multifaceted, such as World of Warcraft. Some are almost nothing but PVP, such as Guild Wars. And some MMOs are mainly about alliances and economics, such as EVE Online. In the big picture, some people would say Warhammer Online is a clone of World of Warcraft. These people haven’t played the game enough. To be sure, it’s very similar, especially as far as the user interface is concerned; WoW set simple standards. WAR stands tall because it stands on the shoulders of giants, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t stand tall by itself.
Warhammer is faithfully based on the Games Workshop world of the same name; the characters, the language, and even many of the “careers” (WAR’s word for classes) come straight from Warhammer lore and the world captures this lore well. The textures and backgrounds are standard: the water really looks like water, but only in the sense that graphics have come a long way in general, not that WAR is pushing any boundaries; still, for an MMO it’s pretty beefy. The tone of voice, color, and text all fit within the world. There is no breaking the fourth wall and very little irony in the quests or storyline, if any.
You play on either the side of Order or Destruction; their names speak for their intentions. The world is split up into 3 sections based on sectionalized conflicts: Greenskins vs. Dwarves, High Elves vs. Dark Elves, and the Empire vs. Chaos. The quests are mostly centered around this conflict. Countrysides, mountains, and towns are awash with NPCs of varying levels engaged in combat. Every single area your character goes to is full of characters on your side fighting people from the other side.
That’s what players will be doing with each other, too. One of the very first quests you receive is to do a “scenario”, an instanced RVR (PVP) zone. Simply doing one is a repeatable quest, worth experience points every time. You can also gain experience from killing enemy players and there is an award of experience based on your individual and team performance.
It’s here, in combat, that WAR really shines. There is no conflict between the PVE and RVR elements, here–the armor and weapons are best for healing and killing players and monsters alike, and so are the moves and class-design. There a great number of options, and the crowning feature of combat is that in WAR there are one-size-fits-all move sequences. In many other MMOs, if your class encounters another class, the best choice of sequence of moves you make is almost a science; always hit 1, 2, and 3. While the moves are simple, the number of moves is large–by rank 40, your character will have over 30 of them. An example: even the bright wizards and sorcerers, which in most MMOs spam endless fire and darkness, have unique situations and will have different types of decisions to make. They can do more damage as they build up power, but will also have a chance to have the magic backfire and hurt them. They can release the power, building it up over and over again, but if they have healers, they can afford the self-harm that comes with more powerful spells. Without a healer, they are choosing whether or not to make the gamble.
At any rate, most combat will be group-based and in these matters your skill and decisions matter more while your gear and class knowledge matter less (though they do still matter). Tanks, for example, have to choose whether to slow down those who flee, whether to protect a group or individual, whether to focus on buffs or debuffs, or whether to hold a choke point–there is no clipping in WAR, so you can block enemy and friendly players. The classes here have distinct purposes and differences. Order and Destruction are different, but complaints about imbalance have been few. WAR has gotten off to a smooth start.
One of WAR’s unique aspects is its grouping system; WoW and others may have set standards for screen layouts and item management, but WAR has set a new bar for groups. Groups form naturally and don’t require a lot of communication; people who aren’t the group leader can refer a player to the leader, making it easier for groups to form quickly. Players can also join without asking; by default, groups are open, and anyone can join them through a simple search.
Also unique is the much-heralded public quest, a quest chain with 3 quests that continually resets. Walk into the public quest’s area and you’ll see the quest requirements. It’s as if the very lands have souls: if there are 40 guards to kill and 4 tents to burn, anyone killing the guards in any group will ticker it down. When and if the quest requirements are completed, everyone in the area receives experience points.
WAR isn’t without its weaknesses, but these are curable in the future. There are still some glitches, though for a launch, they aren’t bad. I had a character get stuck inside a wall and have to log out, but this only happened once. Twice I’ve randomly teleported to mid-air and fallen, then taken a moderate amount of fall damage. Only once have I had a glitch completely ruin whatever it was that I was doing, and it was taken care of within a day.
Some public quest chains end with bosses are way too difficult for their areas, and as the number of characters passing through low-level areas decreases, this will only exascerbate the problem; this too is fixable, though. Also problematic is that the game depends on other players being on and on equal distribution of Order and Destruction sides. They have already offered some measures to prevent and cure this problem: when rolling on a server, even if that server is currently low, it will say if it has a high population. The queues for every single server on every single side are on the server list. Also, queues and population are listed by each side, not each server. They’ve even allowed 5 of the high-population servers to clone (not transfer) characters to other servers in order to alleviate server stress.
One last aspect to cover: the crafting system leaves a lot to be desired. The professions are simple, poorly explained, and unrewarding, though we haven’t fully seen them in action. The auction house and banking system haven’t really been experienced, either, and neither has end-game PVE, which could turn out to be a bore. Still, they have time to fix it and people aren’t playing this game for the crafting or PVE anyway. They’re playing it for a breath of fresh air, some fun combat and PVP action, and great, unique guild mechanics. WAR isn’t for everyone, but anyone who loves world PVP, team scenarios, territory control, or coordinated, roaming posses should take a look.